Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter V

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Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter V

Post by Alexbright99 »

As promised, and right on schedule, here's the latest chapter of the Fallen Heroes story. You know the drill: it will be released in four chapter segments each Friday (or Saturday at the latest).

New to this story? Start with Fallen Heroes Part II Prologue somewhere in this forum and work you way up from there. Good luck ;)


Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter Va

USS Achilles, en route to Aragos – December 9, 2387 – Stardate 64935.1
This is an illusion. Captain Stephan Rinckes knows he is aboard the Achilles, travelling toward the first S’Prenn portal Starfleet gets to study, the result of his crew’s persistent search for clues in former Federation territory, yet he finds himself haunting the corridors of Station A-12. Distorted red alert panels with frightening tendrils light the endless hallway he runs through. His phaser rifle’s flashlight casts a feeble hue onto the path ahead.

The Achilles’ destination is too important to dismiss. However, as wisps of smoke transform into monstrous parodies of Altonoid soldiers, his recurring nightmare robs him of his tenuous grasp on reality and devours him whole. Submerged in delusion, he fires at rows of deformed enemies. Each phaser burst infuriates them, causing them to growl like the animals they are and lash out with elongated arms to scratch at him with claws that have sprung from their digits.

He wipes the maniacal grin from their faces with his rifle stock. “To hell with you! All of you!” Although he lets loose with phaser fire and melee attacks, it is hatred that kills his spectral foes, reduces them to mist as he fights past them. No matter how misshapen and imposing these spirits are, they succumb to his raw fury, and bit by bit, their numbers decline until he is the last man standing.

Having slain the apparitions, Rinckes passes through a doorway and enters an observation lounge he recognizes instantly. Upturned furniture, five Altonoid corpses, starless view in the windows, phaser marks on the bulkheads, and there, surrounded by broken starship models and shards of glass, lies the woman he loved, a gaping phaser wound in her chest.

Rinckes has been here so often: once in real life and over and over in his dreams. Each time he is grateful to be with her and heartbroken because she can never be saved. She looks at him, eyes glazed over. As always, he plays his part, never deviating from his personal tragedy’s screenplay.

He crouches and holds her in his arms. “Melanie, I’m here. I’ll get you to sickbay. You’re going to be all right.” There was no sickbay to return to; their ship had already perished at this point.

“No, Captain,” she whispers. She always whispers. In a foolish act of self-protection, to prevent himself from spending hours wrapped up in biting nostalgia, he had deleted every audio and video file of her from the Achilles’ databanks. A mistake. He resisted, fought to retain the memory, but he has forgotten the sound of her voice.

“Don’t give up,” he says, “I’ll get you back to the ship.”

“Take good care of the Sundance for me, will you?”

“Melanie, I…” The actual exchange took place seven and a half years ago, and his recollection of these events has gradually morphed into the content of his nightmares. He is supposed to say, “I will,” even though every fiber of his being compels him to profess his feelings for her. In each iteration of this dream, he has adhered to the lie, has stuck to his role. No more! He breaks character and begs her, “Please don’t go.” He cradles her and presses his forehead against hers. “Just this once. It’s all I have left of you. You don’t have to go. Please.”

Despite his pleading, the life drains from Melanie’s eyes until they’re reduced to an empty stare. Defeated, he caresses her blonde hair and gazes at her peaceful visage. As opposed to the numb killing spree he undertook to escape Station A-12, he is perfectly content to stay with her and cry beside her lifeless body.

To his astonishment, Melanie’s lips begin to tremble, and she struggles and succeeds to whisper a one-word warning: “Run!”

She vanishes in his arms, swept to the ghostly realm where she will be waiting for his next slumber. His nerve ends tingle as he becomes aware of two figures looming over him: Emily Blue and Ted Barton, wearing the environmental suits they died in, their faces ashen and somber behind transparent masks.

How many have died because of you?” Emily asks, her voice distorted by her suit’s crackling comm system.

With a glove as cold as death, Ted grabs Rinckes by the throat and lifts him off the floor. “Your time is up, Captain. You will cause no further harm.

“I- I’m sorry,” Rinckes croaks, but there is neither life nor mercy in Ted and Emily’s eyes.

Emily adds a bony glove to the chokehold. “You will be with us soon.

Rinckes frees himself from their grasp, swings around, and starts running, out of the chamber and into the corridors of the USS Saratoga.

Warp core breach imminent,” the ship’s computer announces as Rinckes flees through hallways crowded with civilians and officers, the latter of which in 2360s-style uniforms. He pushes these panicking men, women, and children aside and dashes forward as fast as the circumstances allow. Emily and Ted follow him wherever he goes, their magnetic boots clanging against the deck. Worse yet, gray-faced officers in tattered attire have joined them, officers he recognizes as Achilles’ fallen crewmembers. One by one, those lost under his current command emerge from rooms and corridors to form an army of the damned. They’re beginning to outnumber the period-correct characters in his dream, the ones who are evacuating the Saratoga as a solitary Borg cube rips into the old vessel at the Battle of Wolf 359.

The corridor he has fled into features windows lining its port side, which should display Admiral Hanson’s ill-fated fleet and the cube they’re engaging. Instead, it shows an absolute void—no stars whatsoever. Its alluring finality nearly smothers his desire to get away, but approaching footsteps and the dead calling his name prompt him to continue toward the escape pod lying ahead, his sole means of salvation. Already, icy fingertips are touching the nape of his neck.

A bone-rattling detonation shudders the corridor and floods it with orange light. Outside, the saucer section of the Sundance braves the starless void and careens by, larger than life, deck sections blowing apart as it loses entire chunks of hull. Cascading explosions produce a catastrophic rippling effect, resulting in one final explosion that shreds the saucer to pieces. Simultaneously, charred Sundance crewmembers start piling in from every side entrance.

“Where were you, Captain?” they ask.

Scared witless, Rinckes shoves them aside. The escape pod is so close.

“You abandoned us!” a woman shouts after him. She receives clamorous support from the droves of people who have amassed, hundreds of them.

“What kind of man are you?”

“Come back and face us!”

You’ll be one of us soon.

He hurries into the escape pod and taps its LCARS panel to shut the door. It does nothing.

The horde has traded their grim death masks for furious expressions as they continue their unstoppable advance led by Emily. Rinckes keeps pressing the door button to no avail, then starts prying at the escape pod hatch, but it does not budge in the slightest.

A few feet away, Tony Blue materializes between the captain and the macabre lynch mob. Tony is also wearing an EV suit, albeit without helmet, and gives Rinckes a plaintive look while reaching for his handphaser. His cheeks are tearstained and his forehead is sweaty. Biting his bottom lip, he detaches the phaser from his suit and aims it at Rinckes.

“So my first officer is going to shoot me?” Rinckes asks. The horde has neared Tony’s position. They’re ignoring him completely; they’re only interested in the captain’s blood. They will get to Rinckes and tear him limb from limb. “Then shoot me.” It would be merciful. “Shoot, dammit!”

Tony lowers his head and allows the phaser to slip from his grasp.

“Damn you! Damn you, coward!”

As soon as the phaser lands on the carpet, the crowd rushes over Tony like a river spilling over its embankments.

Straining and swearing, Rinckes attempts to pull the hatch closed. His efforts are in vain; hundreds of angry faces descend on him. Countless outstretched arms grab at him, snatch his clothing, his hair, his flesh. He is utterly helpless against this all-consuming rage. Unable to breathe or move because every inch of his body has become pure agony, he cannot even scream for help; he can only hold still and suffer…

…until he wakes to find his executioners have evaporated. He swivels his head slightly to stare through his quarters’ windows at the reassuring presence of stardust flashing by. The small replicator on his nightstand gurgles a small puddle of water into existence, omitting the glass and producing a tiny indoor waterfall. Doesn’t anything on the Achilles function as it should anymore?

At least the nightmare is over and his adrenaline subsiding. That is, until he hears a loud knock at the door, which startles him and rids him of his sleepiness altogether. “Captain,” a woman’s voice says. It’s his current first officer, Commander Erin Crow.

Rinckes pushes away his sweat-soaked covers and jumps out of bed. He is not too thrilled to have her see him in his pajamas, but he isn’t planning on raising the lighting levels in his quarters anyway. “Come.”

The doors to his quarters refuse to open all the way, and Crow has to forcibly push both door slabs aside, grunting with effort and annoyance. “Sorry to disturb you, Captain.” She squeezes herself into the room. “You didn’t respond to my calls.”

His combadge lies within earshot. He must’ve slept straight through the messages it relayed.

Despite the darkness, Crow apparently picks up on his troubled expression. “Don’t worry, sir. We’re all tired.”

It’s not his deep sleep that worries him, it’s the sad fact he can’t recall the last time his dreams were pleasant. This particular nightmare has him so vexed he’d love to yell and flip a chair or table, but he stays composed for his first officer’s sake.

“Are you okay, sir?”

“What brings you here?”

Crow reveals the PADD she is carrying. “We’ve picked up an encoded subspace message on Starfleet’s emergency channel.”


“We’ve verified its authenticity.”

“What’s it say?”

“Not sure. I have lifted Terrell from his bed to decipher the message. This could be huge, sir. New orders, new intel, new technology, who knows?”

“Speculation will get us nowhere.” Rinckes needs a moment to let this development sink in. They haven’t heard from Starfleet in over a year; the brass would risk communicating only to share vital information. “They were wise to encrypt it. And we would be wise to decrypt it before the Altonoids do.”

“We will.”

“Good.” Still reeling from his tussle with his subconscious, Rinckes steadies himself by placing a hand on his bed.

Crow steps toward him. “You sure you’re okay?” Even in scarce lighting, her beauty is undeniable, and her concern somehow enhances her attractiveness. She reaches out to touch his upper arm.

Rinckes brushes off her kind gesture. “I’ll be fine. I need you to oversee our decryption efforts. Go help Terrell. Ask Surtak and Kels to assist; we’ll need the brightest minds on this.”

A brief hint of pain in her eyes. “Consider it done, Captain.”


Pursing her lips, she exits his quarters without bothering to wrestle the doors closed again.

Rinckes seats himself on the mattress and considers working up the courage to return to sleep. Truth is, the difference between being caught in his nightmares or soldiering on awake is becoming harder to discern, but his personnel deserves a well-rested captain.

And so, he permits himself to surrender to starless dreams.
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Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter Vb

Post by Alexbright99 »

USS Achilles, en route to Aragos – December 10, 2387 – Stardate 64939.4
“Captain’s log, supplemental. The message Starfleet is sending out is heavily encrypted, but I am pleased to say our team has risen to the occasion. By using an array of Starfleet decryption protocols, we discovered the deciphered message comprises a series of riddles, mathematical equations typical of Federation worlds, and specific trivia questions on the history of the Federation and mankind, methods to confirm its recipients are from Starfleet.

“Once solved, it became an invitation to transmit a standard greeting on a specific lower band subspace frequency that should ensure safe communication. We will then receive new instructions. I have requested the senior staff’s presence on the bridge for this memorable event. Although we have no idea what’s in store for us, the opportunity to consult with our remote colleagues is very welcome indeed.”

Captain Stephan Rinckes looks around at the shambles of a bridge they are on. Flickering workstations, dangling ceiling conduits, broken railings, bent support struts, and loose rubble make for a depressing sight, yet the bridge crew is in good spirits.

“Power from sensors redirected to comm,” Lieutenant Kels says.

“Comm system boosted to 85% efficiency,” Lieutenant Commander Jon Terrell says with a smirk. “Haven’t seen that figure in a while.”

To the captain’s right, Commander Erin Crow exhales sharply in an attempt to ease her nerves. “Give the word, Captain.”

Rinckes stands up, straightens his jacket, and lets a handful of seconds pass by to emphasize the significance of this moment. “Send a standard greeting on the appropriate channel.”

“Message sent,” Lieutenant Surtak says calmly. The Vulcan’s patience and placidity remain a constant source of envy among his colleagues.

“Now we wait,” Doctor Chris Kingsley says, seated to the captain’s left. “Is it too much to ask they have a cure packed and ready for pickup?”

“It would be a nice early Christmas gift,” Lieutenant Ernest Baxter says.

Lieutenant Tony Blue adds, “If this turns out to be an elaborate way of expressing season’s greetings and nothing else, I’m going to scream.”

“Cut the banter,” Rinckes says, heralding thirty seconds of tense silence during which the crew shuffle and shift in anticipation.

“We are being hailed,” Surtak reports at last, upping the tension, “via the same channel we sent our message on.”

This is it, Stephan. The next few minutes might be instrumental in the success of our mission. “On screen.”

The holographic image of a Starfleet captain in a ready room appears, a balding human male in his early sixties with a wide, thin-lipped mouth and kind yet intelligent eyes. “I am Captain Donovan Sharpe of the Federation starship Indefatigable. Please identify yourselves.”

As if he were a Vulcan himself, Rinckes removes all trace of emotion from his voice. “Captain Stephan Rinckes, USS Achilles.”

“It really is you. I’m honored,” Sharpe says. “I’m not sure you’re aware, but the Achilles’ reputation has become quite legendary, perhaps bordering on mythical.”

“No need for modesty,” Rinckes says. “The Indefatigable is a renowned vessel, and you have quite a reputation as well for being an excellent strategist and a popular captain. We’ve met before, on Rigel X. We shared coffee and tall tales.”

A subtle smile. “It was Delta IV, and we drank something a bit stronger than coffee.” Sharpe is correct, of course. “Did I pass the test? I understand. Caution is a virtue, especially when you believe you are out there on your own.”

Rinckes’ breath catches in his chest. Believe?

Achilles, you are not alone, not anymore. I’m in command of a fleet of seven starships tasked with the same mission as yours: to undo the Altonoids’ hold on the S’Prenn.”

The bridge crew fail to stifle surprised gasps, but Rinckes stays focused. So many questions are going through his mind. He categorizes them in order of relative importance. “How long have you been out here?”

“Six months. The seven of us are currently spread out across nearby sectors. Sorry we didn’t contact you right away. Diligent reconnaissance has kept us occupied. We weren’t even sure you were still alive.”

“We most certainly are. How did you get past the extensive border sensor grid?”

Sharpe leans in on his captive audience. “Our ships are outfitted with the most sophisticated cloaking devices you have ever encountered, a blend of Klingon and Altonoid technology. The Klingon part was a gift, the Altonoid part we acquired through… less legitimate means. We will be more than happy to share this technology with you. It would make your lives considerably easier.”

“No argument there.”

Sharpe’s cheerful disposition yields to seriousness. “How are you holding up? You’ve been at it for years now. It must have been… grueling.”

Rinckes looks at his ragged bridge crew. “You cannot imagine. We have never wavered from our mission, but we have paid the price.” He lowers his gaze. “Thirty-five men and women lost.”

“I am deeply sorry.” Sharpe stares off into the distance. “I don’t know what to say. Losing people under one’s command is a rough deal.” The spark returns to his eyes as he says, “However, you’ve done the Federation a great service, and you will continue to do so with our help. I’ll have my best engineers standing by once we meet.”

“Where do you suggest we do?”

“Our fleet’s combined intel suggests the presence of a S’Prenn anomaly in the Aragos Sector. We believe it to be a portal of sorts, a way of navigating. It is strikingly similar to the anomaly that has formed on Station A-12’s doorstep.”

Rinckes is impressed by the knowledge they accumulated in such a brief period, yet it does trivialize the Achilles’ accomplishments to a degree. A fleet of seven starships with superior cloaking devices has a distinct advantage during a prolonged stealth mission. He wonders if Sharpe knows about the existence and importance of a cure, an antidote for the Altonoids’ bioweapon. It can wait, though. “We will rendezvous there.”

“It’s settled. Together we will study the portal and effect repairs to your stalwart vessel.” Sharpe adopts an air of confidentiality. “With your cloaking device upgraded, you will finally be able to pass the border. No crew has earned the right to shore leave more than that of the Achilles.”

“I agree,” Rinckes says with a nod. “But we have a job to finish, a mission to complete, and a score to settle.”

Though it breaches protocol to interrupt ship-to-ship communication, Tony, Terrell, and Baxter almost simultaneously say, “Hear, hear!” followed by a series of unprofessional cheers and yells so infectious that their colleagues join in.

“You heard them,” Rinckes says, subduing a smile.

“Loud and clear.” Sharpe salutes the bridge crew. “See you in the Aragos Sector. Smooth sailing, fellow seafarers. Sharpe out.”

Stardust against the blackness of space replaces Captain Donovan Sharpe’s image on the main viewer, and silence replaces his reassuring voice. It’s almost as if the conversation never happened. But it did! Rinckes exchanges a glance with Kingsley, then Crow, and knows they’re thinking what he’s thinking: this is a gamechanger.

* * *

USS Achilles, en route to Aragos – December 21, 2387 – Stardate 64969.9
Save for the shiny grand piano on stage, the theater is empty and in a shoddy state. Lieutenant Tony Blue considers it an adequate substitute for the many demolished lounges and more inspiring than his quarters. He sits in the front row, studying the PADD he balances in his lap while finishing a Caesar salad, obeying Doctor Kingsley’s mandate to eat healthier—especially before the big day tomorrow. At noon, the Achilles is slated to arrive at its destination: the mysterious portal. They’ve had two weeks to scrutinize the data, and rumors are growing of this portal leading to Station A-12, straight into the heart of the Altonoids’ main research facility.

Tony refuses to commit to such a conclusion, but if this guesswork turns out to be accurate, the best strategy would be to upgrade their cloaking device with the help of Sharpe’s fleet, restore the Achilles to battleworthy condition, and go get that cure with one or all ships. He has already concocted several plans and scenarios ranging from covert operations to full-blown surprise attacks. If the portal leads elsewhere, who knows what valuable new locations or technology they may find. Worst case scenario, if it leads nowhere, studying the portal should at least provide insight into the cure.

After setting his empty plate aside, he immerses himself in the PADD and its information about the brave fleet led by the Indefatigable. She is a Sovereign-class starship, a sister ship to the lost Kennedy, on which he served as a Q/human hybrid. That brings back memories, mostly good ones of his former crewmates, but the prevailing one is the sight of her eviscerated secondary hull spewing debris, rotating away from Station A-12 in slowmotion. He and Emily had flown past the darkened hulk when they fled the station in an appropriated shuttle. The Kennedy’s saucer section had already been blown to dust.

Wallowing in yesteryear is a pointless exercise, so Tony refocuses on the present. Besides Captain Sharpe’s vessel, the fleet consists of two Defiant-class escorts (perfect for cloaking and combat), an Ambassador-class ship (the famous Zhukov, an old but tough heavy cruiser), and three starships representing the Steamrunner, Luna, and Nebula class respectively. Their names and registries checked out; they are confirmed to have reached Klingon space in the wake of the Altonoids’ initial destructive campaign, as are her crew complements.

Tony did the math; the fleet’s presence means 2,600 extra souls have joined their mission, which is both encouraging and admirable. Shelving his humility for a second, he recognizes it takes a special type of person to sign up for the imposing task of crossing into dangerous territory to reclaim Federation worlds against all odds. Hiding behind the Klingon border is a far safer option, yet these people have risked their lives willingly, just as the Achilles’ crew did five years ago. He’d shake each and everyone’s hand if he—

The grand piano ringing a loud chord nearly launches Tony into the air. He yelps and unholsters his phaser in a reflex. This in turn causes Lieutenant Josh Donahue, who has seated himself at the piano, to scream in shock at the mysterious figure in the front row pulling a phaser on him.

“What are you doing here?!” Tony asks, and he puts away his phaser.

Josh lets out a mighty sigh of relief. “I could ask you the same question.”

“Um… This is where I eat my salad.”

Josh bursts into tremulous laughter. “And this is where I practice piano. Now tell me which one of us shouldn’t be here.”

“Point taken.” Tony picks up his plate and PADD and walks up to the stage. “Had enough of conducting security drills?”

“You just gave me one heck of a surprise drill. My phaser reflexes need work. Flailing my arms in terror isn’t becoming of an acting security chief.”

“Well, I am notorious for my quick draw.” Just ask the captain. “I’m guessing this is the first time an audience member threatens you with a weapon?”

“It is, actually.”

“Please take it as constructive criticism.”

“I will.” He starts playing little improvisations, and Tony mounts the stage to listen. “Before coming here, I visited Gibbs in sickbay,” Josh continues. Apparently, he can talk and play piano at the same time. Show-off… “He can’t wait to resume his old job.”

“I heard Sharpe’s fleet has lifted his spirits.”

“Yeah, he is doing much better, mentally. Physically, though, he is not out of the woods yet.”

“It’s usually the other way around.”

Josh’s improvised piece goes from lightweight to melancholic. “I understand why he rejected Kingsley’s offer to fuse half a S’Prenn with his neck. It’d shorten his healing process, sure, but… I don’t care how different such a ‘treatment’ is from being taken over by a living S’Prenn, I wouldn’t wish the experience on anyone.”

“Gibbs made the right call.” Tony’s gaze drifts to the nonexistent audience. “I wonder what Captain Sharpe will think of our sickbay of horrors.”

“Sharpe will condemn it. Shut it down. Rebuild it to conform with Federation principles.”

“The sooner the better.”

“Kingsley will be relieved.”

“Of duty?” Tony asks.

“Not what I meant.”

“We’ll see.”

Josh morphs his impromptu piano piece into a pompously cheerful accompaniment and sings in his best approximation of an opera singer, “Got shot in the back, doctor thought, ‘What the heck, stick a spider on his neck, turn him into a spider snack,’ caught some flack, career out of whack, soon Kingsley will get the sack.”

Despite himself, Tony giggles at the childish yet expertly performed song. “And to think we are Starfleet officers in charge of tactical and security.”

“Should we be worried?”

“You should write all senior officers a song to even things out.”

“Oh, you’re on!”

Tony chuckles. “See you on the bridge tomorrow, Josh.”

“Goodnight, sir.”

As Tony heads for the exit—PADD and empty plate in hand—Josh breaks into another improvised song, a mock dramatic one. “Lieutenant Tony Blue, Lieutenant Donahue, when Sharpe’s fleet appears in view, they’ll have a special song for you.”
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Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter Vc

Post by Alexbright99 »

USS Achilles, Aragos Sector – December 22, 2387 – Stardate 64970.4
The Achilles’ cloak deactivating restores the bridge lighting to normal levels. “We have arrived in the Aragos Sector,” Lieutenant Ernest Baxter says with a tinge of excitement. “Portal dead ahead.”

“On screen and magnify,” Captain Stephan Rinckes says, standing in the center of his bridge. Massive and awe-inspiring, a glowing, vertical disc of rippling white light as bright as a star covers the left-hand side of the viewscreen.

“Readings flooding in, sir,” Lieutenant Kels says. “The portal has a diameter of 6.5 kilometers and it is emitting an exorbitant amount of tetryon particles, most of which foreign to us. Energy output is off the charts.”

“Boost power to sensors,” Commander Erin Crow says. “Let’s waste zero time.”

Rinckes wholeheartedly agrees. “Take us closer.”

Once again, the entire senior staff is present for the occasion, including Doctor Chris Kingsley, who is more upbeat than usual and a better representation of his former self. “Don’t forget its biological properties!”

Kels smirks. “I won’t, Doctor.”

To the right, competing with the portal for being the most welcome sight for sore eyes, seven relatively pristine Federation starships face the new arrival in V-formation. Rinckes, and probably the whole crew, could recite their names at the drop of a hat. Leading the pack, the Indefatigable lives up to her name by being a strong and formidable battlecruiser. The Zhukov and Ironclad flank her, the latter of which a compact Steamrunner-class vessel. They in turn are flanked by two large science vessels: the Luna-class Triton and the Nebula-class Berkeley, both equipped with impressive armaments and scientific equipment—powerful additions to a mission like this. The Alaska and Renegade, small Defiant-class ships jampacked with heavy weaponry, guard the tips of the formation.

So much for the hard facts and the demonstration of Sharpe’s wise fleet deployment. Even a pragmatist such as Rinckes has trouble suppressing his relief and—dare he think it?—joy over seeing familiar hull configurations. He casts those distractions aside, as he should. There is much work to be done in concert with these reinforcements.

“Captain, the Indefatigable is hailing us,” Lieutenant Surtak says.

Though vanity is low on his priority list, Rinckes runs a hand through his graying hair and tugs at his jacket. “On screen.”

Whatever detached professionalism the bridge crew maintained vanishes instantly when they’re greeted with a standing ovation from Captain Donovan Sharpe and his senior officers on the Indefatigable’s spotless bridge. Rinckes channels the deluge of emotions they all experience into a courteous nod at Sharpe, who nods back while applauding, a show of respect from one captain to another.

Sharpe signals for the applause to stop, allowing him to say, “We are honored to have you with us, Achilles. Our fellow captains in this fleet express the same sentiment.”

“It is rare for a Starfleet captain to be stumped,” Rinckes says, “but here I am. Here we are.” He shares a brief smile with Lieutenant Tony Blue, then clears his throat. “USS Achilles, reporting for duty. Permission to join your fleet.”

“Do you really have to ask? Permission granted.”

“We are at your command. Baxter, have us join formation.”

“First order of business,” Sharpe says as he returns to his captain’s chair and his people to their stations, “is to investigate the portal and repair the Achilles.” The viewscreen’s image starts to distort and stutter. “We will… finest… to ensure… efficiency.”

“What the devil?” Rinckes says, shooting a glance at his chief engineer.

Lieutenant Commander Jon Terrell taps away at his engineering station’s interface. “Our comm system is acting up, sir. Nothing major. I’ll have it fixed in a jiffy, but we need to reboot it.”

“…going on?” Sharpe asks.

How embarrassing. “Please stand by,” Rinckes says. “We are experiencing difficulties with our communication system. We need to bring it offline.”

“Thirty seconds at most,” Terrell adds.

“Sorry about this,” Rinckes continues. “We will re-establish contact within a minute.”

“No problem,” Sharpe’s hazy profile says. “It is… be expected after… in enemy territory… a patient bunch.”

On screen, the Indefatigable’s bridge is replaced by the portal and the seven starships the Achilles is approaching.

“I have pinpointed the problem’s source,” Surtak says, eyebrow arched. He swivels in his chair to face Terrell. “It is you, Commander.”

Terrell gives his captain an apologetic look. “He’s right, sir, but I have a good reason.”

“Out with it!” Rinckes demands.

Flustered, Terrell says, “It is subtle, but it’s there: the presence of an audio overlay and a holographic filter in the Indefatigable’s video feed.”

“You mean…?”

“We are hearing and seeing what they want us to. There could be a completely innocent explanation for this, or…”

Crow tenses up in her chair. “They are hiding something from us.”

“Please let it be a pimple,” Kingsley says, earning him a nervous chuckle from Tony, who’s manning the tactical station behind the doctor.

“Can you disable the filter?” Rinckes asks.

“Yes, sir,” Terrell says. “I didn’t want to do it mid-communication, hence my deception.”

“Good thinking.” Rinckes cracks his knuckles and loosens up his shoulders. “Disable filter. Hail them on my mark. Stand by cloaking device and warp engines, maximum warp, random escape route—not through the portal. Cloak and warp as soon as I call for red alert. Let’s talk to them first. Maybe it’s nothing, but it is suspicious.” He seeks eye contact with every member of his bridge crew to ensure they understand him. “Whatever we are confronted with, we will not react. That’s an order. You will show no reaction whatsoever. We are happy and relieved to be talking to them, and that changes only on my say-so.”

This has certainly ruined the mood, but everyone hides their apprehension well as they perform their duties.

“Projecting false energy output as soon as we cloak,” Terrell says.

“Weapons and shields standing by in case we have to fight,” Tony says.

“Security teams standing by on all decks,” Lieutenant Josh Donahue says from his security station behind Crow.

“We have assumed formation,” Baxter says. From their current position, the bright portal with its hypnotic ebb and flow takes up the entire viewscreen. “Helm ready for quick retreat and defensive maneuvers.”

Rinckes tidies his uniform and forges a positive attitude. “Surtak, resume communication.”

On screen, the Indefatigable’s bridge now appears disheveled and dilapidated. Rinckes’ heart sinks into the coldest depths of despair as he sees her crew unfiltered by holographic illusion.

Captain Donovan Sharpe’s face is pale as snow, dilated pupils inhabit his bulging eyes, white fangs frame his mouth, four spider arms protrude from the sides of his jacket, and eight spider legs tremble behind his neck. “Did you solve your technical troubles?” His voice is scratchy and less enunciated with the audio filter disabled.

Rinckes doesn’t flinch and neither do any of his men and women, although it’s as if the ambient temperature has dropped several degrees. He suppresses the urge to scream in anger, curse the Altonoids, curse himself, and declare red alert to escape this obvious trap, but he cannot call their bluff yet. It takes shuttleloads of willpower to refrain from giving his reply double meaning. “Signal is clear. We can pick up where we left off.”

“Excellent,” Sharpe replies, his friendly smile a terrifying sight. Controlled by their arachnid puppet masters, the captain and his crew look emaciated and half-dead. They must have been S’Prenned months ago. “We were about to send medics and engineers to assist you.”

“That would be much appreciated,” Rinckes says, realizing midway that the other six ships must be brimming with S’Prenn and S’Prenned people as well. “Our divisions are preparing for their arrival and will let us know once they’re ready. Meanwhile, let’s recommence studying the portal. There is no time to waste.”

“Our teams are ready for you now, Captain.” Around what remains of Sharpe and his subordinates, individual S’Prenn a foot wide crawl across the floor, ceiling, and bulkheads. “Why wait?”

Rinckes sustains his poker face. “To be frank, it’s been five years since we received guests and we need a little more preparation to smoothen the transition.” He throws in a smidgeon of fake charm. “Simply put, we want to give you a proper welcome.”

Sharpe’s deformed features dampen his subtle change in expression. “Very well. Don’t take too long, though. We’ll be analyzing your vessel in the interim. Sharpe out.”

The instant the transmission ends, Rinckes stomps back to his captain’s chair and falls into it. “That bought us seconds at most.” He rubs his forehead and stares at the anomaly in front of them. “Kels, can you tell us where the damned portal leads?”

The Andorian woman is on the verge of crying. “Negative, sir.”

She isn’t the only brokenhearted person on the bridge. Kingsley sums it up best: “I thought that for once… we had caught a lucky break. That… we weren’t alone.”

“We have each other,” Rinckes says. “I promise you all, we will uncover this portal’s secrets.” He exhales through gritted teeth and springs to his feet. “But not today. Red alert! Engage cloak. Get us out of here, Baxter, maximum warp.”

The lighting dims and red alert panels blink to life as the cloaking device activates, and Baxter maneuvers the Achilles a few degrees starboard to avoid the portal. However, engaging warp drive does not produce an immediate result. “The portal is interfering with our warp field. Attempting to counteract its effects.” The helmsman urgently types strings of commands into his station. “There!” The engines’ hum rises in pitch as they’re about to propel the Achilles to warp speed. Unfortunately, at the first sign of motion, a violent shudder brings the ship to a complete halt.

“Three tractor beams locking on to us!” Tony shouts. “They’re disrupting our cloak!”

A loud warble stings the captain’s eardrums and violent tremors jolt the bridge. “Cloaking device damaged!” Terrell says. “They know exactly where we are.”

“Raise shields,” Rinckes orders. Damn it, these bastards came prepared! “All hands to battle stations!” The tractor beams lose their death grip on the Achilles, which has become too slippery with shields up to maintain an effective lock. “Baxter, try again.”

“No good, Captain. Primary and secondary warp engines are momentarily out of kilter after that failed warp attempt.”

Rinckes wants to order Terrell to fix it right away, somewhat redundantly, but the reappearance of Sharpe on the viewscreen prevents that.

“Where are you going?” The disfigured shell of a man chuckles. “You want to spend another five years sneaking around?”

Rinckes ignores him. “Ahead full impulse!” The Achilles lunges forward and breaks formation.

“You’ve raised shields. How long do you think you’ll last against seven starships?”

“The Triton and Berkeley are sending out continuous nadion pulses,” Kels says, “which exacerbates the portal’s influence. Our warp field keeps collapsing.”

“Full power to aft shields,” Rinckes says. “Target their deflectors and fire.”

Hesitant but compliant, Tony fires a full spread of quantum torpedoes at the Starfleet vessels, wrong as it may seem.

“We do not take kindly to your firing on us,” Sharpe says.

Rinckes’ nails bite into his palms. “Get that thing off my screen.” Sharpe and his ghoulish crew make way for seven starships, five of which sending out tractor beams that glide across the Achilles’ shields, and two of which firing a steady stream of nadion particles from their deflector dishes. “Terrell, notify me when the cloaking device is operational again but prioritize fixing the warp engines. Blue, can you lower their shields using their prefix codes?”

Tony gives it a try. “Negative, sir. They must have changed it like we did before entering enemy territory.” He refocuses on wielding the Achilles’ weaponry. At his behest, another volley of quantum torpedoes bursts through the Berkeley’s forward shields. One more should do the trick, and then they will have to—

The fleet lets loose phaser beams and torpedoes, unleashing thunderous destruction on the Achilles’ shields and stern. The ship quakes as if shaken by the gods. “Defensive maneuvers!” Rinckes yells.

“Aft shields are down!” Tony says. “They’re targeting our shield generator and warp drive.” Already, one of the tractor beams is threatening to gain foothold on the Achilles’ naked hull.

“Baxter, pull up, heading 235 mark 045. Blue, destroy the Berkeley’s deflector. You have permission to deplete dorsal phasers and microtorpedoes if required.”

The fleet continues their barrage, favoring sheer firepower over mobility, and the Achilles maneuvers her stern out of their weapons’ path, lines up her dorsal section, and concentrates all phaser fire and blankets of quantum microtorpedoes on the Berkeley. With forward shields drained, the Berkeley’s deflector is defenseless against this unabating violence; bright-red explosions reduce it to a useless disk of blackened remnants and leave the Berkeley listing at an unnatural angle.

One nadion pulse to disable before they can retry the warp drive. “Status of warp engines,” Rinckes says.

“Secondary engines good to go in five seconds,” Terrell replies.

“Dorsal shields failing!” Tony shouts as rupturing overhead conduits spark and smoke.

“Damage reports are coming in from all decks,” Surtak says.

The Achilles’ hull creaks like an old galleon, a sound the captain has never heard her make before. “Face the fleet and maintain full impulse. Present minimal aspect. Divert power to forward shields. Alpha Strike the Triton’s deflector.”

Achilles sics her phaser arrays, pulse phaser cannons, and quantum torpedo launchers on her target while rushing toward the Triton. This also brings them closer to the fleet and their overwhelming strength. Worse still, the two flanking Defiant-class escorts break formation and initiate parallel attack runs on the Achilles’ weakened dorsal section.

“Brace yourselves!” Rinckes warns. “Repel them with microtorpedoes!”

The Achilles’ bow is taking one hell of a beating as it is, yet her tired phaser cannons and dorsal torpedo launchers do their jobs undeterred, as if they sense what’s at stake. Three quantum torpedoes finish off the Triton’s weakened shields just as the side-by-side Alaska and Renegade dive-bomb the Achilles. Scores of microtorpedoes rip through the escorts’ shields but cannot prevent their phaser pulses from tearing through the Achilles’ armor and instigating ship-rocking explosions. In retaliation, a batch of microtorpedoes cripples the Renegade and sends her tumbling end over end in a cloud of smoke and debris.

“Hull breaches reported along our ship’s spine,” Terrell says, smoldering rubble fragments clinging to his uniform. “Forward shields are failing.”

“Press on!” Rinckes shouts. “Baxter, as soon as we destroy the deflector, go to high warp.”

Alaska is coming about for another strafing run,” Tony says.

“Initiate corkscrew maneuver.” By having the Achilles rotate along her longitudinal axis, Rinckes hopes to keep damaged areas out of reach, though he admits to himself it is a tactic born of desperation. Yes, it protects the ship’s weak spots, but it also allows her shields and armor to be pummeled from multiple directions, rattling the worn vessel, gashing her scarred hull plating. On the viewscreen’s tilting image, the Zhukov and Ironclad close ranks to protect the Triton, absorbing hits meant for the science vessel while leaving enough room for the nadion pulse to affect the Achilles.

As the net tightens, Rinckes remembers his nightmare. You will be with us soon. Were they speaking of today? Has the weight of his sins culminated in a demise this inglorious? If he fails his people once again, he will have nearly four hundred extra deaths on his conscience. What kind of man does that make him?

“Captain. Captain!” Crow says, breaking his spell. “What do we do?”

The Indefatigable rises above her colleague ships and reactivates her tractor beam to grasp the Achilles’ unshielded bow, decreasing the battered vessel’s speed to curtail her defensive maneuvers. The inevitable attack run from the Alaska knocks out the Achilles’ primary impulse engines with a deafening blast, and she comes to a complete standstill in the tractor beam’s grip, sending her crew flying due to the immense deceleration. Rinckes holds out his arms to soften his landing, but he is too late to avoid smashing against Surtak’s ops console. In an instant, the captain’s whole world goes black.
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Fallen Heroes Part III Chapter Vd

Post by Alexbright99 »

Flashes of light in Rinckes’ vision confirm he hasn’t lost consciousness. Disoriented by darkness and muffled shouting coming from all around him, he digs his fingernails into the carpet to ground himself and regain his bearings. He ignores the pain and shock of what felt like undergoing an interstellar collision and gets to his feet, right next to Baxter and Surtak, who have held on to their stations but look worse for wear. “Switch to secondary engines! Target tractor beam and fire!”

“Secondary engines unable to compensate,” he hears Terrell say. “Emergency battery power is dwindling. Hull integrity down to 41 percent. Shields are fried.”

Resembling a weakened prey attempting to bite its killer one last time, the Achilles spews out a final volley of quantum torpedoes, which dissipates in the Indefatigable’s forward shields, rocking her but not affecting her unremitting tractor beam. The Alaska rejoins formation while the Zhukov and Ironclad incapacitate the Achilles’ phaser arrays, cannons, and torpedo launchers with precision strikes, denying her the ability to defend herself.

Tony slams a fist on his tactical station’s now useless interface. “Weapons offline.”

A torrent of sparks surrounds Terrell. “They’re disabling our transporter systems too.”

“They don’t want us going anywhere,” Kingsley says.

Rinckes looks at his horribly ravaged bridge. His disheartened crew continues their work despite the imminence of defeat. It is a miracle they have made it this far against these odds, a notion extending beyond this one-sided battle, although he’d be remiss not to swap the term miracle for dedication and skill. Nevertheless, they are trapped like a struggling insect in a web and there is no-one to bail them out.

“The Indefatigable is hailing us,” Surtak reports, sounding remarkably dejected for a Vulcan.

Dreadful as it may be, this unfair test of their resolve goes on, so Rinckes straightens his spine and returns to his chair. He seeks eye contact with Crow and starts typing commands into his armrest’s display. “On screen.”

The main viewer is one of the few remaining functional onboard systems. The Indefatigable’s terrifying bridge and her mutated captain appear on it once again. “I don’t understand why you’d fight us,” Sharpe says. “Perhaps your mission has been more traumatic than we realized. Although you’ve severely damaged the Berkeley and Renegade, I am sure their captains will forgive you in time, as we do now. We welcome you back into the fold. Let us heal your wounds.”

“Your acting skills are impressive, whatever your name is,” Rinckes says, “but you are not the only puppeteer at play here. The Altonoids are pulling your strings the same way you are controlling Captain Sharpe.”

Sharpe drops the pretense of camaraderie. “You could not possibly comprehend how the Altonoids have opened our eyes and given us meaning in this universe. As for my acting skills, humans are easily duped. It is hardly a challenge.”

“We have accrued mountains of evidence of the Altonoids’ horrible experiments in mind control on your kind.” Reasoning with an indoctrinated S’Prenn is a long shot, but Rinckes has to try. “The Altonoids have constructed a bioweapon to safeguard their total dominion. You have been victimized as well. Our mission is to cure the S’Prenn, to cure you, and have you regain autonomy.”

“We are aware of your flawed motives created by misguided fear. You thought you were always one step ahead, but we were on your trail, and by ‘we’ I mean the combined forces of the best that Altonoids and S’Prenn have to offer. It is how we extrapolated your next destination: this portal. It is how we set this trap. You put up a good fight, Achilles, almost as good as the crews of these vessels we seized attempting to cross our border.” Sharpe chuckles, a different laugh than when he was in character—no friendliness, no malice either. “They were sent to assist you, believed their improved cloaking devices were sufficient.”

“Do you care so little for us? Do you care nothing for your species’ plight?”

“I have no choice in the matter. I must obey my directives as ordained.” A solemn pause. “For what it is worth, my host has never ceased resisting my control, doubly so since we have contacted you. He is an extraordinarily strong-willed, principled humanoid, yet no match for my biological and intellectual superiority. Despite his powerlessness, he is deeply remorseful about the current state of affairs. Many of my brothers and sisters report similar sensations from their hosts.”

Rinckes shares a mournful glance with Kingsley before saying, “Donovan, if part of you can hear me… You tried to come to our aid and for that we are grateful, regardless of how it turned out.”

Sharpe recomposes himself. “Sentimentalities aside, my Altonoid masters will be pleased I have captured your vessel. You have been a thorn in their side for far too long.”

“And what reward will they give you?”

Hesitation flickers across Sharpe’s malformed face. “None.”

Having wrongfooted his conversation partner, Rinckes goes for the kill. “They will keep oppressing you. Do you think they’ll permit you to separate from Captain Sharpe anytime soon? You are as tied to him as he is to you, both slaves to the ruthless Altonoids’ will as they continue to slaughter your kin—men, women, children alike.”

Sharpe offers no reply.

“All the while you’re trapped controlling a human body that’s degenerating into the likeness of a corpse and stuck with an utterly miserable human mind that’s resisting your every thought each and every second, day after day. How terrible you must be feeling. Believe in the Altonoids’ benevolence all you want, your situation is hopeless.”

The gaunt captain shifts his gaze in lieu of responding.

“It doesn’t have to be this way. Please help us liberate you. Tell us where the portal leads.”

“We have nothing further to discuss. You will understand soon. Fear not, you will continue to serve on your vessel as hosts for my fellow S’Prenn. Not everything we told you was a lie. We will repair the Achilles; you will make a fine addition to the magnificent Altonoid fleet.”

Rinckes hardens his stare. “Like hell we will.” He makes a cutting gesture across his neck and Surtak closes the channel. In a futile, last-ditch bid for redemption, Rinckes considers the alternatives to the orders he is about to issue and concludes there aren’t any viable ones. Heaving a weighty sigh, he presses the intercom button. “All hands, this is the captain. My first officer and I have set off preliminary intruder alerts throughout the ship and primed the auto-destruct.”

Nobody on the bridge moves a muscle as they listen to his devastating announcement.

“Arm yourselves, phasers set to kill. Do not hesitate to fire on S’Prenned crewmembers; they cannot be freed unless their S’Prenn does so willingly.” A brief silence as professionalism battles his reluctance to destroy what he vowed to protect. “Computer, begin auto-destruct sequence, authorization Rinckes 1-7 Delta Epsilon.” He nods at his first officer.

“Computer, Commander Erin Crow. Confirm auto-destruct sequence, authorization Crow 1-8 Gamma Charlie.”

The captain wishes this were a nightmare, but the stars that used to soothe him affirm there is no waking from reality. “This is Captain Stephan Rinckes. Destruct sequence Alpha-One. Fifteen minutes, silent countdown. Enable.”

A warning claxon sounds and the ship’s computer declares, “Auto-destruct sequence initiated. Warp core overload in fifteen minutes. There will be no further audio warnings.

“All hands, abandon ship. I repeat, all hands, abandon ship. Make for the shuttles and escape pods. If you think you cannot outrun the fleet, you may go through the portal at your discretion.”

Cobalt swirls of light indicative of Federation transporters materialize the first S’Prenn on the floor, bulkheads, stations, ceiling—a dozen of them at least.

Like his bridge officers, Rinckes unholsters his handphaser. “I don’t know what’s beyond the portal.” Phaser fire erupts and he rises from his chair to join his crew’s final stand. “But this is our last chance to find out.” A S’Prenn leaps up at him, quivering legs fully extended, and Crow shoots it in midair, allowing the captain to sign off. “Godspeed, everyone. It’s been an honor serving with you. Rinckes out.”

Crow and Kingsley stand by his side to defend their captain, shooting S’Prenn left and right while he fires at a S’Prenn crawling toward Baxter’s ankle. The spider screeches as it dies and Rinckes blocks out the harsh fact that these creatures are sentient beings under enemy control, unwilling participants in a cruel war.

Despite his evacuation order, none of the bridge crewmembers show an inclination to leave their posts. Like the captain, they have difficulty accepting how their mission has come to an abrupt end.

* * *

Lieutenant Tony Blue is picking off creeping and jumping S’Prenn wherever he sees them, relying on survival instinct and his vision’s acuity for movement, but his accurate and fast aim is insufficient to ward off waves of S’Prenn beaming onto the damaged bridge.

“On your feet!” Rinckes shouts, backing toward the aft turbolift with Crow and Kingsley. “We’re done here! You deserve far better, but we have to make our escape!”

To Tony’s left, Kels guides four junior officers into an alcove leading to escape pods. Baxter tears himself away from his helm station to provide covering fire, ensuring their retreat will not be hampered by the countless invaders. Unfortunately, the officers return seconds later, chased by a group of S’Prenn scuttling over carpet and bulkheads.

“If you are able,” Rinckes continues, “follow me to shuttle bay 4!”

Those not yet on their feet get up, with the exception of Surtak, who makes zero effort to do so. Facing the viewscreen, he is twitching in his seat as a S’Prenn burrows its fangs into his brainstem.

“Shuttles present better tactical options than escape pods,” Crow says. The pandemonium of phaser fire renders what she says next inaudible.

Baxter and Tony fire at the stream of S’Prenn pouring out of the alcove, while Kels—being the sweetheart she is—helps the junior officers. That is until one of them, a male ensign, grabs her by the throat and pushes her against the bulkhead near the helm station. Lit by blinking red alert panels, eight spider legs are sticking out from the ensign’s neck.

From across the bridge, Josh Donahue fires his phaser at the ensign, killing the poor soul instantly and freeing Kels from a merciless chokehold. Baxter rushes toward Kels to tug her away from the spider-infested bulkhead, causing Tony to step up his game and fire at the surrounding S’Prenn.

A desperate scream distracts him. “No! Please!” It’s Josh. A S’Prenn has latched itself onto his neck, from Tony’s perspective visible as fluttering spider leg shadows on the flashing red displays behind the acting security chief. “Tony! Help!” Contorting and gagging, Josh struggles against the arachnid seizing his mind. “Please shoot!”

What can he do? Tony raises his handphaser at his friend, temporarily forgoing his personal safety, unsure if he possesses the courage to honor Josh’s request.

“No!” Baxter yells from his left. For a split second, Tony thinks Baxter wants to prevent him from firing, but then he catches a glimpse of Kels twitching and convulsing in the chief helmsman’s arms. Baxter is too distraught to notice the two S’Prenn crawling up his legs, racing each other for ownership of his body.

“Baxter, watch out!” Tony yells, aiming his phaser at the S’Prenn duo, realizing he can’t fire from this angle without seriously injuring or killing Baxter. His senses heightened by adrenaline, he feels something crawling up his own legs as well. In a moment of indecision, he alternates between aiming at Baxter, Josh, and the growing number of S’Prenn. From near the vacant captain’s chair, a S’Prenned officer exposes dripping fangs and growls at him.

He cannot protect them anymore.

Tony spins around, patting his legs and torso like a man on fire, until he clutches the warm exoskeleton of the S’Prenn climbing to his neck, its scaly femurs squirming against his fingers. It made it as far as his shoulder blades. With all his might, he flings the screeching creature toward the viewscreen, where it disappears in holographic depictions of hijacked Federation starships.

Tony fires at groups of S’Prenn dropping from the ceiling, kicks the ones on the ground reaching for his pant legs, and dashes for the aft turbolift to join Rinckes, Crow, and Kingsley. He is about to cross the lift’s threshold when a strong arm grabs him by the collar. It’s Surtak, or rather, it was. Now, the S’Prenn on his neck is calling the shots.

The pale ops officer twists the phaser out of Tony’s hand and speaks through thick fangs while another S’Prenn scales the Vulcan’s chest. “Your mind holds many secrets.” The second S’Prenn creeps over Surtak’s arm and homes in on Tony’s neck. “We have never controlled a former Q before.”

“You never will!” Jon Terrell shouts, tackling Surtak with a full-speed shoulder charge, sending himself, the Vulcan, and the second S’Prenn rolling over the floor.

Tony intends to dart to the heroic chief engineer’s rescue, but someone thwarts his plan by wrapping an arm around his waist and yanking him backward, into the turbolift. It wouldn’t have mattered; Surtak pins Terrell down for a S’Prenn to leap off the carpet and onto his neck. Terrell yells in pain as the S’Prenn bites him. Terrified, he looks at Tony and pleads, “Go! Go!” before he is reduced to gargling and thrashing.

“I’m so sorry, Jon,” is all Tony can say while Crow pulls him to the back turbolift wall.

The holographic Indefatigable presides over a dark bridge teeming with S’Prenn that are steadily approaching the turbolift. There is no-one left on deck to conquer. Those commandeered by the S’Prenn join their advance, spider arms bursting from their sides, eyes black as coals. Shuddering like a defective automaton, Terrell rises from the floor as his puppeteer acquaints itself with controlling its new host.

“Shuttle bay 4, emergency close doors,” Rinckes says.

As the doors slide shut and the lift prepares to transport its four occupants, Tony catches one last glimpse of the horrendous scene unfolding in front of him. Kels and Baxter work together once more, under enemy coercion, ripping open the Jefferies tube hatch behind the captain’s chair to pursue the turbolift. Josh Donahue, looking exactly like he did in the S’Prenn wreckage, stares at Tony with soulless pupils.

The doors have closed to separate them from the madness, and the lift descends into the bowels of the ship. Crow embraces Tony in a mutual attempt to console the inconsolable, a break in professionalism he considers perfectly understandable; at a time like this, they are humans first, officers second. Rinckes and Kingsley keep silent, for they may be relatively safe now, one undeniable truth remains: the S’Prenn know where they are going.


Fallen Heroes will continue Friday, August 2nd with a brand-new chapter.
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